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Say No To Plastic

I have a simple request. I would like garden centers and hardware stores to stop selling plastic tools. Sure, they’re inexpensive, but they are also cheap. The tools are too lightweight to be useful. Plastic becomes brittle when left out in the sunlight. It breaks, cracks, and chips easily. It’s ugly. And it’s made out of petroleum.

I’m staging my own personal rebellion by slowly filling my tool shed with high quality tools. My favorite new tool is a 2 gallon, galvanized metal watering can. It has a very nice rain nozzle that delivers a gentle stream of water. It’s perfect for watering in newly planted seeds and fertilizing mid-season, and I think it will last for decades.

Some other tools on my shopping list, include:

5” stirrup hoe from Johnny’s Select Seeds. This is my all-time, favorite tool. The blade slices right under the soil’s surface, cutting off the roots of young weeds without disturbing the soil. This version has a solid ash handle and comes with replaceable blades.

3-Tine Hand Cultivator from Red Pig Tools: Hand cultivators simplify weeding between rows and make digging evenly spaced furrows easy. This particular cultivator is from a line of gorgeous, hand-forged tools made in Oregon by Rita and Bob Denman. All of their tools are simple, handsome, and heirloom quality.

Felco hand pruners. The gold standard for pruners. You only need to buy this tool once because pretty much everything on it is replaceable, including blades, springs, and handles.

Lee Valley Stainless Steel Digging Fork. Stainless steel won’t rust, is sturdy, and looks pretty, too. I use a digging fork for weeding, gently loosening soil, and dividing plants.

I’m going to add these tools into my collection over the fall and winter so I’m ready to roll next spring. What about you? What are your favorite tools and tool companies?

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13 Responses to “Say No To Plastic”

  1. 1
    Karen Says:

    Felco pruners are the best. I don’t take very good care of mine but they still work! They make a great gift to a new gardener, too.

  2. 2
    robin Says:

    I’ve had a galvanized watering can for several years now and honestly I’ve thought about buying a plastic one lately. Here’s the problem…eventually the metal breaks down. When I mix 0-10-10 to put on my berries in spring, it seems to eat through the metal (just a little bit more each year). And as the metal breaks down, the rust gunk clogs up the watering holes. I’d rather stick with the metal, and I doubt I’ll give into the plastic, despite the temptation. When my can bottom finally gives out, it might make a nice planter.

    And on hand tools, I’m a hori-hori user (wooden handle thank you very much) and Stihl brand handsaw and bypass shears. I like the locking mechanism on these better than Felco. I’ve used Bahco brand as well and loved them, but found them a maze to disassemble to clean and sharpen. Plus I screwed up sterilizing them with bleach and corroded them. They’re now my “under the soil” shears and saw.

    Thanks for starting the discussion!

  3. 3
    Danielle Says:

    Love the galvanized watering can. I have thought about collecting old watering cans to have in a garden shed one day for decor. My favorite gardening tool are my Foxgloves – they come in all kinds of fashionable colors – pinks, purples, reds and you can throw them in the washer to clean them unlike the plastic ones.

  4. 4
    Willi Says:

    Robin, I can vouch that galvanized watering cans make great planters. The one my mom has had since I was a kid finally rusted out this summer and we planted it up with annuals. It looks great! Danielle, I also really like foxgloves. They are so comfortable! And the hori-hori is awesome…I hoping to get one as a departure gift when my term on Seattle Tilth’s board ends in January!

  5. 5
    laura Says:

    Seconding the galvanized watering can. It’s pretty enough to keep in the kitchen for collecting bits of water from food prep, too. Will refer back to this post for my own wish list :)

  6. 6
    Rebecca W Says:

    My gardening can just rusted out in three small places, it was my grandmothers. I am now 55 so you can imagine how old the can is. I have repurposed it as a planter. The water drains out of the bottom, the plants don’t have wet feet, and I still think of my grandmother everytime I look at it.

  7. 7
    Lori Says:

    I just bought two metal trash cans for my kitchen (one for the recycle), and I thought about the rust thing, too. I already know that they will be planters someday, and that makes me feel better about buying them. I like to purchase things knowing where they’re going…all the way through to the end of their lives.

  8. 8
    An Island Gardener Says:

    As for stainless steel gardening tools…if the price-tag is too steep, you can (apparently) maintain your regular tools for years in the following manner, written about by John Seymour in his book “The New Self-Sufficient Gardener:”

    1.) Scrape the dirt off your shovels/forks/etc when you are going to put them away
    2.) Keep a bucket full of sand mixed with oil (he suggests recycling used motor oil), deep enough to fully insert the head of your garden tool, inside your garden shed.
    3.) When the dirt is mostly scraped off your tool, submerse it a few times in the sand. It is cleaned and oiled in fell swoop, insuring a rust-free tool

    I haven’t tried it, but am thinking of doing it when I (hopefully) put in a larger garden shed this year (one that can actually hold my tools and me at the same time, unlike the little leaky shed from a box we inherited with the house). My only concern – used motor oil and organic gardening?

  9. 9
    Willi Says:

    Island Gardener–I made a tool cleaner like you described last summer and it works great. I used vegetable cooking oil instead of motor oil…I learned the trick at a local community garden in Seattle. It’s a good one!

  10. 10
    Marc Photo Says:

    Hello Willi,

    I absolutely love your blog. I look forward to your posts.

    Reading about the sand/oil trick, would that be equal parts sand and oil?

    Thanks for your time,


  11. 11
    Willi Says:

    Hi, Marc–I have a 5 gallon plastic bucket filled with sand. I poured two large bottles of vegetable oil into it—you want the sand to feel kind of wet with oil. Cheers!

  12. 12
    Jessica Says:

    I inherited an old metal watering can with the house we are currently renting and although the nozzle end has corroded out and all of the water spills out of one thin hole at the end of the spout, it holds water just fine and is still gentle enough to water newly transplanted annuals. And it serves as a decorative element when not in use atop a pedestal I made out of left over pavers stacked on top of one another. I love the retro feel of it and have been putting off getting another one can until I can find the perfect one (within my price range is more the challenge). Does anyone have any advice about metal versus copper?


  13. 13
    brittney Says:

    Hi Willi, I got a set of these hand forged garden tools for Christmas. They’re beautiful and functional. Have you every seen them?

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